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Kentucky has a wide range of projections in way-too-early top 25 rankings

A lot of differing opinions on the Cats entering the 2023-24 season.

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2023 McDonald’s All American Game Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The 2022-23 college basketball season is officially over after the Connecticut Huskies claimed their 5th national title in program history with their win over the San Diego State Aztecs.

Now we can turn our attention to the 2023-24 season and the No. 1 overall recruiting class that John Calipari is bringing in.

With the end of one season comes the way-too-early rankings for the next. So, let's take a look at where the Kentucky Wildcats stand in the various rankings.

One early warning: A consistent issue with these various rankings is they project one or more of Chris Livingston, Oscar Tshiebwe, Daimion Collins, and/or Ugonna Onyenso to return to Lexington.

At this point, it appears very likely that Tshiebwe (draft), Livingston (draft or transfer), and Collins (transfer) won’t be back, while there’s a very real chance Onyenso (transfer) also departs.

Anyhow, ESPN has Kentucky checking in at No. 4 behind the UConn Huskies (No. 1), Marquette Golden Eagles (No. 2), and Duke Blue Devils (No. 3).

“John Calipari is back with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, and a potential starting lineup with at least three or four of those freshmen penciled in from day one. D.J. Wagner and Robert Dillingham should form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the sport, while Justin Edwards is the No. 1 recruit. The biggest question is what Oscar Tshiebwe opts to do. Will he come back for another year?”

ESPN predicts a starting lineup of Robert Dillingham, D.J. Wagner, Justin Edwards, Chris Livingston, and Aaron Bradshaw.

Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News agrees that UConn is the No. 1 team but has the Cats as the No. 6 team right now.

“UK almost always is among the most difficult teams to project in advance of the season, because so much of the team’s potential is in the hands of high school prospects who have yet to compete in the college game. And that’s become more complicated by the presence of “super seniors” in so many places who exacerbate the differential between the youngest and most experienced players in the college game.”

He continued, “The Wildcats might have some of that experience themselves, however, depending on who among the team’s veterans chooses to remain for next season. And the freshmen represent Kentucky’s best on-paper class since, at least, their 2011 class included the top two prospects in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This time, it’s three of the top four players and four of the top 10.”

Sports Illustrated keeps Kentucky inside the top 10 at No. 8 but is not as confident in the quality of the incoming class.

“The 2023 high school class is considered to be one of the weakest in recent memory, but Kentucky has what is by far the nation’s best class. Guard D.J. Wagner and wing Justin Edwards look the most ready to contribute right away: Wagner as a scoring combo guard, and Edwards an athletic wing with great size. Kentucky also has the potential to be monstrous defensively with the two-headed monster of freshman Aaron Bradshaw and sophomore Ugonna Onyenso in tow to block shots.”

Seth Davis of The Athletic has them as the No. 9 team entering the new season. However, he notes that the return of Antonio Reeves and/or Oscar Tshiebwe could put them in talks for No. 1 overall.

“It’s hard not to fall for the banana in the tailpipe trick again with the Wildcats, but this time John Calipari really is bringing in a big-time recruiting class. It includes four McDonald’s All-Americans and a dynamic point guard in Wagner who will call to mind the likes of John Wall and De’Aaron Fox. The fifth freshman, Sheppard, is a UK legacy who is ranked No. 30 in the 247 Sports Composite. Toppin and Wallace have entered the draft and are forgoing their remaining eligibility. Wheeler is in the portal. Tshiebwe and Reeves both have a year of eligibility left, so if either or both come back, Kentucky would have a case to enter the season ranked No. 1.”

USA Today joins the group that has UConn at No. 1 overall but has the Cats just outside the top 10 at No. 11.

“Nobody will cry for the Wildcats after losing several key components from this season, including Oscar Tshiebwe and freshman standout Cason Wallace. They’ll try to reload with the No. 1 recruiting class that features three elite prospects – Justin Edwards, DJ Wagner, and Aaron Bradshaw. What will be key for John Calipari’s team is finding the requisite role players to fit into the puzzle that can end Kentucky’s run of disappointing tournament finishes.”

CBS Sports has the Cats checking in at No. 13 despite having a lot of positive things to say.

“This ranking is based on the Wildcats enrolling the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class featuring four five-star prospects - among them Justin Edwards, DJ Wagner, and Aaron Bradshaw — to pair with a returning core headlined by two-time All-American Oscar Tshiebwe. It’s a roster that could give John Calipari a realistic chance to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2015.”

247 Sports is by far the lowest on the Cats for next season as they don’t even have them in the top-25 but have them listed as one of their “15 more to watch.”

“The Wildcats should get Antonio Reeves and CJ Fredrick back, but lose a number of key pieces. The good news is Kentucky brings in 247 Sports’ top-ranked recruiting class. But Kentucky will need to land some haymakers in the portal for more proven players.”

One thing that is certain is that Kentucky’s roster is not yet completed as there are still decisions to be made for potential returners, and I would be shocked if Calipari doesn’t add a couple of transfers to complete the 2023-24 roster.

Here’s to hoping they’re the right pieces to help this team become a true contender.